I was asked to share what I have done, in light of the closing of NMC’s campus for in-person class sessions for the balance of the spring semester, to transition two of my traditionally taught courses to an exclusively online format. In each of these courses, I have moved the two weekly 90-minute in-person class sessions to two 90-minute Virtual Classroom sessions in Zoom. We are keeping the same days and times that we had for the in-person class sessions because that is what students were used to and that is when most of them should still be available. For those students who are no longer available during those time periods because of other changes in their lives, an audio archive is made through Ensemble of every Zoom session. Given that students did not contemplate attending Virtual Classroom sessions in these courses when they registered for them, I have avoided stating that live attendance at these sessions is required. Although the attendance numbers in the Virtual Classroom sessions in one of these courses are not what I had been hoping for, there are enough students to produce a good exchange of ideas and perspectives, resulting in the archives of these sessions being different from recorded lectures. In addition, I am encouraging those students who are instead accessing the archive of a Virtual Classroom session to email me with any questions that they would have asked me had they participated in that session on a live basis.
I felt that for my students who had signed up for an in-person class, my maintaining the same days and times for the Virtual Classroom sessions–when their schedules in other aspects of their lives were likely changing—might in a small way be reassuring. For other courses, now that a couple of weeks have passed since the cessation of in-person class sessions, it might very well not be as well-received for an instructor to try to use the usual class times for the Virtual Classroom sessions. What could be done at this point would be what I have done for over 20 years in my online three-credit courses: to establish three weekly 45-minute Virtual Classroom sessions, two of these being in the evening hours and one being over the lunch hour. Keeping the Virtual Classroom sessions to 45 minutes would likely be better in some respects, as I have found that the 90-minute sessions that I have been using in this recent transition have been on the long side for this type of online activity. One way to maintain the 90-minute time period for a Virtual Classroom session would be to divide each session in half with a short video. I have done this in one of my courses by pausing the recording, asking students to access the video through the posted link, and then reconvening afterward to discuss the video. I could, of course, ask students to watch the video before the scheduled Virtual Classroom session, but some would likely not do so, and the video provides a good change of pace during these 90-minute sessions.
In these Virtual Classroom sessions in Zoom, I am the only one with a camera and a microphone turned on. Students use the text (chat) box within Zoom to type their responses to my questions and to ask their own questions. This avoids two students trying to talk at the same time and also avoids the distracting background noise that often occurs with an open microphone in each student’s home setting. In addition, having the camera exclusively on me avoids the concern that some students would likely have with how they look at the time of the session or how their home in the background looks. Thus, the resulting Zoom archives only contain a video and audio of me. The Zoom archives do not include a written transcript of the students’ typed responses and questions, so I am careful, as to each student’s comment or question that has advanced the discussion, to paraphrase it so that it becomes a part of the audio archive. Thanks to the excellent work of Educational Media Technologies, the links within Moodle to the Virtual Classroom sessions in Zoom have made it easy for students to access these sessions on a live basis and to access the archives of these sessions. I am able, again thanks to EMT, to upload each Zoom Virtual Classroom session into Ensemble and then into Moodle without difficulty.
Regarding essay exams that had before the transition been administered in class, I am now posting them in Moodle to be taken on an honor basis. Each exam includes the honor language that was already in my syllabus, to the effect that no materials in print or online may be accessed during the taking of the exam. I talked with one of our CIT instructors about the exam monitoring software that is available, but reached the conclusion after that conversation that if an individual student were to make the decision to access outside materials during an online exam, then that student might very well be able to access those materials even with the monitoring software. Accordingly, I have chosen under the present circumstances to rely on the honor basis. For the remainder of this semester, I will be following this same honor basis in my online sections where previously the exams had been proctored at NMC’s testing center.
This Virtual Classroom approach to transitioning to an online format for the last few weeks of this semester seems to be working well for these two courses, but it may not work well for many other courses. I am sharing it as merely one idea. We have been adjusting to this transition to an exclusively online format this semester in different ways and there is, of course, strength in this diversity.